'Inspid' budget with no relief for any section: Congress

Last Updated: Sat, Jul 06, 2019 15:37 hrs
Chidambaram (AP photo)

New Delhi: The Congress on Friday dubbed the first Union Budget of the Modi 2.0 government as "insipid and opaque", saying it had not revealed any financial data or allocations, had no relief for various sections of people, or mentioned measures to help farmers.

Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters, former Finance Minister P. Chidamabaram said: "Budget 2019-20 is an insipid budget. The Finance Minister's speech was an unusually opaque exercise."

"Short sentences that do not explain what they are trying to do. This budget of 2019-20 is a monotonous budget. Has there ever been a Budget speech that does not disclose the total revenue, the total expenditure, the fiscal deficit, the revenue deficit, the additional revenue mobilisation or the financial concessions?

"Has there ever been a budget speech that does not disclose the allocations to important programmes like MGNREGA, the mid-day meal scheme, healthcare, etc. and to vulnerable sections like SC, ST, minorities, women etc? We are shocked by this departure from the usual practice," he said.

Chidambaram said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman should have been transparent about how much revenue the government expects to raise with the raise in taxes.

"Belying widespread expectations, the Finance Minister has given no meaningful relief to any section of the people. On the contrary, the Finance Minister has increased customs duties on a large number of goods, raised taxes on petrol and diesel and proposed extensive amendments to the Income Tax Act that will increase the tax and compliance burdens on the taxpayer," the Congress leader said.

On additional taxation on the super-rich, Chidambaram said it is "unclear whether the effective tax rate has been increased from three per cent to seven per cent, or by seven per cent".

Questioning the government for not having anything for the farmers, he said: "There is nothing in the Budget that explains how you are going to reverse the slide in agriculture."

Chidambaram also said even the government's plans for the agriculture sector had not been explored in Sitharaman's speech, noting that there had been hopes that the government would come up with a detailed blueprint for the revival of the farm sector.

"But in the speech given by the Finance Minister, there was no mention of the agriculture system. How can I say something if she has not mentioned anything?" he said.

Slamming the government, Chidambaram said: "The (Narendra) Modi government treats India as one big state government and has taken upon itself to do things that are the right and duty of state governments.

"This is not cooperative federalism, it is an unequal partnership imposed by the Centre upon state governments."

Chidambaram said that the Prime Minister is willing to do incremental reforms, but he is unwilling to undertake "radical reforms".

"It is clear that while the economists are advocating structural reforms, those in government do not believe in it. I think Modi is willing to do incremental reforms, and not bite the bullet to do radical reforms," he said.

He also said that Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian must be very "disappointed" at the Budget.

"The most disappointed person must be the Chief Economic Adviser. The CEA had set goal for India to become a $5 trillion economy and premised his entire argument on boosting private investment. There was no indication in the budget speech of any measures to attract greater private investment," he said.

To a question about the government's decision to keep the Budget documents in four-fold red cloth, like the traditional India 'bahi khata' instead of a briefcase, he said: "A Finance Minister belonging to the Congress party will in future bring an iPad."

Earlier in the day, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Congress media head Randeep Singh Surjewala had described the Budget as "old wine in new bottle".